Massive London 'fatberg' to be turned into museum exhibit

The peculiar exhibit is but a fragment of one of the largest such objects ever found, measuring 820 feet long and weighing 130 tons.

Posted: Jan 19, 2018 8:39 AM

(CNN) -- What used to be a disgusting subterranean mass of congealed waste -- also known as a fatberg -- will soon be on display at a London museum.

The peculiar exhibit is but a fragment of one of the largest such objects ever found, measuring 820 feet long and weighing 130 tons, as much as 11 double-decker buses. It was removed last year from the sewers underneath the East London district of Whitechapel, after it caused a severe blockage.

"It will be displayed in a sealed unit," said Sharon Robison, head of conservation at the Museum of London.

"It's been in quarantine for a total of around nine weeks already and we'll undertake some more scientific analysis before the exhibition."

The Whitechapel monster

Fatbergs (the word is a portmanteau of fat and iceberg) form over time as items such as wet wipes, nappies, condoms, sanitary products and various types of greases and oils are flushed or washed down drains instead of disposed correctly.

Thames Water, which operates the water system in London, says it spends £1 million a month, or nearly $1.4 million, to clear blockages of this kind. To reduce their occurrence, it has started a campaign called "Bin it - don't block it" to educate the public on which items should be discarded as regular garbage rather than flushed down the toilet.

The worst offenders are cooking oils and fats -- coming mostly from restaurants and other food outlets -- and wet wipes, which are often marketed as "flushable." But unlike toilet paper, these wipes take years to break down as they often contain plastic, and shouldn't be flushed at all.

When it cools down, the fat tends to solidify around other flushed items such as wet wipes. The resulting mass then sticks to the sewer walls and hardens until it becomes as hard as concrete. The 47 inch by 27 inch sewer pipe in Whitechapel, 11 feet underground, was completely blocked by the fatberg, which spanned the length of two football fields.

Removal took nine weeks. "People think this comes out of the sewer as a massive lump, but the team that has extracted it had to break into small pieces and suck it up through a hose," said Robinson.

Powering buses

After extraction, rather than ending up in a landfill, the fatberg fragments were turned into biofuel at a special facility in Scotland. "We're the only people in the world who can turn the stuff into biodiesel," said Dickon Posnett of Argent Energy. "It's difficult, it's not cheap, it takes a lot of work, but every ton of biodiesel displaces a ton of normal diesel, which saves over three tons of greenhouse gas emissions."

The fatberg fragments are first melted, then the solids and plastics are removed before it's converted into an oil. It's then filtered and blended at 20 percent with standard diesel.

Posnett estimates that the Whitechapel fatberg might have yielded up to 10,000 liters of fuel, some of which has since powered London buses. But he says he'd much rather collect the fat from grease traps, devices that prevent solids and greases from entering watersystems. "That would mean that what goes down into sewer is genuine sewer waste. But there's very limited legislation in the UK to enforce the practice of collecting oil with grease traps at the outlets into the sewers from restaurants and hotels and such."

A piece of London history

Museum of London took several precautions after acquiring the fragments, including monitoring the gases coming from the lumps and performing x-ray scans to make sure no sharp bits were hiding inside: "The fatberg itself is actually quite toxic, so we had to be certain that we weren't going to put something in a display case that would be releasing dangerous or flammable gases -- but it doesn't smell very much anymore," said Robinson.

The results of the various tests will be part of the exhibit, for which Robinson expects a mixed response: "There will be people who'll wonder why on earth we've chosen to display this, but also people who understand this is a serious London issue and that we have a role to play in telling that story and to reach a wide audience.

"This is an important London story about what we're doing to the city, about population growth and the way the British diet has changed to include more fats, oil and grease that end up into the sewer system, posing a challenge for the Victorian infrastructure that the city is built on."

Posnett agrees: "It's such an interesting story, putting it into a museum and showing what happens to the stuff we flush down the toilet can be an eye opener to what goes on under the streets and help people learn about landfills and waste and greenhouse gas emissions," he said.

"It's a brilliant way of highlighting the problem."

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Huntsville/Redstone
Cloudy
47° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 43°
Muscle Shoals
Cloudy
48° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 43°
Huntsville/Madison
Cloudy
47° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 43°
Decatur
Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 40°
Fort Payne
Cloudy
49° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 47°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 498076

Reported Deaths: 10094
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson716711387
Mobile36294737
Madison32616468
Tuscaloosa24340421
Montgomery22739519
Shelby22174218
Baldwin19873289
Lee15039157
Calhoun13832293
Morgan13753254
Etowah13390325
Marshall11448211
Houston10124264
Elmore9483190
Limestone9420138
St. Clair9022227
Cullman8984182
Lauderdale8612214
DeKalb8489175
Talladega7606165
Walker6585259
Jackson6545104
Autauga632492
Blount6236127
Colbert6001121
Coffee5264103
Dale4671107
Russell406933
Franklin399878
Covington3993106
Chilton3898103
Escambia379173
Tallapoosa3622143
Clarke344053
Chambers3431111
Dallas3422142
Pike293373
Marion288695
Lawrence284985
Winston258368
Bibb246160
Geneva240370
Marengo238857
Pickens225457
Barbour213651
Hale212269
Fayette202057
Butler201466
Henry183541
Cherokee178039
Monroe166739
Randolph164840
Washington156836
Macon147745
Crenshaw146255
Clay145954
Cleburne139841
Lamar133733
Lowndes132751
Wilcox122925
Bullock117336
Conecuh107024
Perry106127
Sumter99732
Coosa90224
Greene88532
Choctaw55323
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 779449

Reported Deaths: 11501
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby876181509
Davidson81809871
Knox46250587
Hamilton40539463
Rutherford38563386
Williamson25382204
Sumner21448318
Montgomery17484213
Out of TN1706694
Wilson16510211
Unassigned15772127
Sullivan14431274
Blount14141183
Bradley12996141
Washington12818234
Maury12246163
Sevier12109164
Putnam10635170
Madison10123230
Robertson8997121
Hamblen8063165
Anderson8044158
Greene7309145
Tipton6962103
Coffee6418115
Dickson6256106
Gibson6196141
Cumberland6127122
Carter5990155
McMinn594592
Roane592696
Bedford5816120
Loudon571966
Jefferson5688119
Lawrence557483
Monroe536590
Warren532576
Hawkins527195
Dyer5242101
Franklin475785
Fayette468372
Obion436995
Lincoln415662
Rhea415273
Cocke401295
Cheatham394544
Marshall391956
Campbell381859
Weakley379359
Giles375297
Henderson362273
Carroll349181
White339366
Hardeman338864
Macon337273
Hardin331563
Lauderdale309642
Henry301275
Marion294744
Scott288144
Wayne287630
Overton285557
Claiborne283069
McNairy268353
Hickman266541
DeKalb266151
Haywood264960
Smith256936
Grainger244246
Trousdale239822
Morgan230338
Fentress229544
Johnson217138
Chester202348
Bledsoe201010
Crockett197547
Unicoi181447
Polk177722
Cannon176730
Union173033
Grundy169730
Lake167926
Sequatchie157327
Humphreys154921
Decatur153837
Benton151039
Lewis147425
Meigs126722
Jackson125634
Stewart124025
Clay107130
Houston103632
Perry103527
Moore94516
Van Buren79720
Pickett74623
Hancock49712

Community Events